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How a smartphone app can track and clean up pollution

posted Jun 12, 2019, 2:50 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Nov 21, 2019, 12:56 PM ]
 by Kirsten McDade, Pollution Prevention Specialist

Quite often, you know water pollution when you see it — an oil sheen on the water, a plastic bottle bobbing on the surface, soap suds going down a storm drain. These are all clear examples.

What about some of the more unusual, but just as dangerous, forms of pollution? What can you and I do to prevent all kinds of pollution, common and uncommon alike?

I received an email the other day from a Bellingham resident out walking their dog when they came across a pile of suspicious red dirt - it caught my curiosity, too.  After some investigative work, I discovered that this mystery substance was garnet abrasive used to sandblast a boat by a nearby business.

Garnet is not particularly toxic to life in the water — but the contaminants that the abrasive picked up could be. If it was used to blast off paint, for example, it could contain copper, which is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms even in very small amounts. Luckily, after a quick email to the Port of Bellingham, the pile was cleaned up within hours.

A couple days later while biking along Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, I noticed a pier that’s starting to collapse onto the beach and water below. It made me wonder what contaminants could be leaching into the water from the wood in this dilapidated structure. I also noticed some folks sanding their boat in the harbor — could this also unintentionally be washing contaminants into the water?

For both these incidents, I posted an image and description of what I saw using my phone and the Water Reporter app. This allows other app users, some of whom are pollution specialists like myself, a chance to see and respond to possible pollution locally — in real time.

Potential sources of pollution aren’t always obvious. Is something on the ground near water that seems like it shouldn’t be? Is something other than water making its way down a storm drain? If you happen to find potential pollution while out and about, I would love to hear about it! To alert us to the pollution in question, you can…
  • Download the Water Reporter app to easily report pollution on the go (directions for your smartphone here). When in doubt, report it! We’ll get back to every report within 24 hours on weekdays. This helps us not only respond to pollution, but also track it in the app and look for any patterns.
  • Call, text, or email me, and hopefully we can find a solution to the pollution! Pollution Prevention Hotline: (360) 220-0556 or email: KirstenM@re-sources.org
If you live, work, or recreate in Whatcom or Skagit counties and are interested in becoming more involved with pollution reporting, we’re working on a guide for what to keep an eye out for.  Anyone concerned about water pollution can work to prevent it! Stay tuned for a full guide on how to spot pollution and quickly notify someone who can clean it up.

This product is funded through a Public Participation Grant from the Department of Ecology.